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Kansas City's Health Department director wants the agency to focus on violence prevention

A woman talks at a podium. Behind her is a large banner that reads "Public Health."
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Dr. Marvia Jones talks with reporters at the KCMO Health Department on Feb. 4, 2022.

Dr. Marvia Jones is the first Black female to head the city's health department. She was appointed to the position last month.

After two years of focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic, Kansas City’s newly appointed health department director, Marvia Jones, wants the agency to focus on violence prevention as a key agency goal.

Before joining the health department, Jones worked in public health and focused on that issue. She also spent time at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jones said being proactive about violence prevention means analyzing the conditions that impact a person’s life and may lead to violence in the future.

“It's more than just what you see on the surface,” Jones said. “And so you have to think about everything that's going on in a community that may not be getting the attention it needs.”

That can mean looking at a person’s housing conditions, their health and the resources they can access, she said.

“If we don't get to those issues, if we don't pay attention to those things, then we will maintain a steady state of being reactive to what happens,” Jones said. “We'll continue to tally up the numbers of deaths every year and say, ‘We don't know what's going on.’”

Jones noted a key program is Aim4Peace, a city-backed initiative that takes a public health approach to reducing homicides. The program’s aims include responding to violent and trauma-related situations, intervening in conflicts and working with survivors of violence while they are in the hospital.

“ …It is one important tool, because it involves people who are credible, who know the actors, or who can get to know the people who are involved with these incidents,” Jones pointed out.

The Aim4Peace program is slated to receive about $837,000 in the upcoming city budget.

As COVID-19 cases in Kansas City continue to decline, Jones said she’s “cautiously optimistic” about the outlook.

Jones said treating COVID-19 as an endemic condition rather than a pandemic allows her to draw on her knowledge about how the virus spreads to inform her own behavior.

“If I am somewhere in line, or there's a packed coffee shop line, what have you, I will put on a mask,” she said.

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